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In successive votes, a motion to approve the Arts Academy Elementary Charter School failed 4-5 and a motion to reject the Computer Aid Inc. Learning Academy Charter School passed 7-2.
Thomas Lubben, founder of the Arts Academy, left the meeting immediately after the vote was cast. In the lobby, he told reporters he had “no comment.”
Tony Salvaggio, president of South Whitehall Township’s Computer Aid, a computer services company, stayed until the end of the meeting, when he asked the board if he could speak.
He then criticized school directors for rejecting his application when the district has a low graduation rate, out-of-date technology and minimal offerings of full-day kindergarten. He also pointed to comments by the student representative from Allen High School earlier in the meeting about the school’s need for tablet computers.
‘I would have thought you would have welcomed with open arms an opportunity for some of your students to work with a world-class technology program,” Salvaggio said. “I would have thought the board would have welcomed the opportunity to change the trajectory of failure that happens with so many of the students in the Allentown School District.”
Every student at the Computer Aid school would have had their own iPad and spent 50 percent of the day learning through cutting edge video-game like instruction, according to the charter’s proposal.
The school would have offered small class sizes and full-day kindergarten and every student would have been on individualized learning plans in which computer programs would have sent teachers emails with daily progress and suggested homework.
The application was rejected because it “contained no evidence of support whatsoever by parents or students,” school board President Robert E. Smith said.
A lack of community support is one of the reasons school boards should legally reject a proposed charter school according to state law.
Salvaggio didn’t try to pre-enroll students because he didn’t think it made sense to ask them to commit to a school that didn’t exist, he said. He did generate support from a number of local business and community leaders and believed the district should have talked to him about the lack of parent and student support so he had a chance to address it.
But Superintendent Russ Mayo said groups looking to start charters should have consultants or attorneys that guide them through the process. The district has never met with charter founders to help them with their applications, he said.
Smith voted to deny the Computer Aid charter along with board Vice President Debra Lamb and School Directors Joanne Bauer, Ce-Ce Gerlach, Ellen Bishop, Charles Thiel and Mike Welsh. Directors Scott Armstrong and David Zimmerman were opposed.
The vote on the Arts Academy was more divided, with Welsh and Thiel joining Armstrong and Zimmerman in support of the school.
Smith said he didn’t vote to approve the school because it didn’t have the kind of parent support that charters Roberto Clemente and Lincoln Leadership had when they packed the board room with parents and students.
But Thiel, appointed to the board in October, said he thought the Arts Academy did have enough support to succeed.
Lubben previously founded the Lehigh Valley Charter High School for the Performing Arts in Bethlehem and Arts Academy Charter School in Salisbury Township. The charter in Allentown would have been an elementary school version of those schools.
Instead of students majoring in one or two specific arts, they would have been exposed to visual arts, dancing, figure skating, theater and instrumental and vocal music during daily two-hour sessions.
Source: The Morning Call – by Adam Clark
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